In and Around C, Gallery One Twenty Eight, aerial installation view, photo by Mad Mohre.

In and Around C, Gallery One Twenty Eight, aerial installation view, photo by Mad Mohre.

Even after the blitzkrieg bop days of Guitar Hero, everyone still enjoys getting in touch with their inner rock star. If you are looking to strum a different chord, make sure to swing by Gallery One Twenty Eight on the Lower East Side in the next two weeks (August 17-30) and check out In and Around C, a participatory music and art installation. The project was conceived of by Brooklyn-based visual artist Mad Mohre and produced by The Nouveau Classical Project (NCP), a collective devoted to re-outfitting classical and new music to diverse audiences. In order to be fully realized, the site-specific installation requires visitors to engage with the work. Specifically, as participants walk onto an enlarged music staff made of museum grade vinyl on the gallery floor, they will be converted into “notes” on the staff. An aerial photo of these “notes”—heads of the guests—are captured by a webcam and then transmitted to a wall-mounted screen. Not unlike a John Cage piece, the performance depends heavily on the participation and involvement of the viewers. Guests walk into the project space and morph from being spectators at the front of the gallery into variables of chance by the time they reach the back of the gallery. As an adjunct to this dynamic, the NCP musicians must operate from a more vulnerable position: instead of reading music from preordained scores, they must improvise. Artist Mohre comments, “Like a game of shadow tag, participants and musicians have a nuanced, symbiotic, interactive relationship that completes the piece.”  In between performances, a computer program, “In C++” (designed by collaborator Gabriel Taubman), operates as a performer in lieu of a live audience. The program detects movement within each frame, captures photo stills and then uses algorithmic measures to simulate the work of virtual musicians in the performance.

My personal experience of In and Around C was filled with both whimsy and intrigue.  Whereas the rectangular railroad style gallery space naturally lent itself to inhabiting the role of a music staff, the idea of being part of a musical piece was rather exhilarating. I enjoyed what felt like a customized experience, having a chance to engage with symphonic sound in a space that was receptive to interpreting bodily immersion. Furthermore, In and Around C has the sensibility of a social scuIpture because it effortlessly disconnects people from their digital devices and draws them back into the analog world where eye contact and auditory cues are paramount for participation.  In this environment, the physicality of sound blankets its listeners in a polyphonic cascade, stretches the imagination and changes the way we experience sound. Undoubtedly, In and Around C expands the boundaries of classical music by fusing machines with musicians and movements with melodies.

Visiting In and Around C's Mad Mohre and Sugar Vendil during installation at Gallery One Twenty Eight

Visiting In and Around C’s Mad Mohre and Sugar Vendil during installation at Gallery One Twenty Eight

In speaking with Sugar Vendil, the founder and Artistic Director of NCP, she expressed that the goal of In and Around C was to create a deeper level of engagement between art and the public through physical and aural immersion.  When asked if she felt that the piece met her creative vision, Sugar offers, “I believe In and Around C not only met our creative vision but also expanded it. It has inspired us to dream up more immersive ways to engage audiences. Music is not just limited to concerts and this case, creation can involve both artists and audiences as equal participants.”